We all aspire to be better communicators (or rather, we should.) Strong communication will help us accomplish our goals, drive good outcomes, and add value to our colleagues and customers, and generate business. All good things.
But while the benefits of good communication are easy to identify, most people tend to think about poor communication as a momentary setback, and ignore the cumulative and toxic impact. Many of the people I interact with tend to undervalue the degree to which poor communication hurts us over the long term, cumulatively. The costs register as a loss of credibility and a drag on our advancement. And once poor communication becomes a part of our individual brand, it effects everything and everyone we come in contact with in the workplace.
There’s a bigger picture, too: Company leadership often fails to see how poor communication hinders the organization as a whole. Collectively, poor communication can disrupt business in fundamental, and very expensive, ways.
In other words, at both the individual and organizational level, we all tend to underestimate how poor communication slows everything down, and places a handbrake on progress.
Where do we see the costs most clearly?
1. Wasted time: In an organization where communication is not prioritized, meetings are inefficient and ineffective. Because little gets accomplished in such meetings, more get scheduled, and every member of the team feels overbooked, under-informed and generally unhappy.
2. Failure of purpose: When we are unable to communicate well on a day-to-day basis, there also tends to be a lack of shared purpose and direction. If our communications when we come together are poor, then coming together tends to be something we dread. And if we dread coming together, then we drift apart. And nothing good comes from that.
3. Lack of innovation: Imagine yourself in a meeting where a team is presenting a new project, product or process. The audience has clearly checked out: Half the room is checking a device and the other half is flipping through the PowerPoint deck to try to figure out the point of this meeting. Does anyone understand the new product or its benefits? Probably not, which means that it will likely be discarded, or at a minimum, poorly executed. Multiply this across multiple meetings and multiple products, and you have a company that is stagnant.
4. Drop in morale: The sum of all these issues? When people can’t communicate and connect, when people dread coming together as a group, when things don’t or can’t get done, we end up with a toxic drop in morale.
5. Loss of credibility: This can happen at both an individual and company level. As an individual, your ability to express yourself confidently and persuasively has a direct effect on your ability to accomplish your goals. And as a company, the way your goals and innovation are represented outwardly — through client meetings or public relations — has an immediate impact on your business metrics. Without clear, effective communication, internally and externally, everything from sales growth to stock price will decline.
So what do we do about it? We all know the cliché. The first step in solving any problem is realizing you have one. Recognition of the problem needs to happen first. But what’s the second step? In my experience, the solution to the problems of poor organizational communication can be accomplished from the top down, or the bottom up. Ideally both. From the top down, there needs to be a recognition and commitment to do the following:
- Acknowledge the problem.
- Commit to making communication an organizational priority.
- Agree to a set of communication norms across the organization.
- Hold people accountable for changed behaviors.
And from the bottom up, each member of the team needs to make a commitment to themselves and their colleagues to be a good caretaker of other people’s time. Show up prepared, ready to engage and listen, and ready to make your point.
Is it easy? Of course not. Is it achievable? Of course it is. But the change towards good communication skills needs to become an organizational commitment, top down and bottom up.
Good luck, stay safe and have a great day.
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